Red-Light Camera Citations Drop in Arnold as MoDOT Changes Yellow Light Times


Motorists driving along roadways maintained by the Missouri Department of Transportation could receive fewer red-light camera tickets if preliminary reports from Arnold ring true statewide.

Beginning in February, MoDOT began changing the yellow-light signal times throughout Arnold, where all the city's red-light cameras happen to be along state-controlled roads. In general, the change to the signals has lengthened the amount of time for yellow lights.

For example, motorists traveling southbound through the intersection of Highway 141 and Astra Way now have 1.6 seconds more yellow time -- from 4 seconds to 5.6 seconds. MoDOT has also changed the length of time that all signals at an intersection appear red, generally giving intersections a bit more time to clear all cars before changing lights.

In so doing, Arnold has experienced an unintended consequence -- the number of red-light runners has plummeted since MoDOT made the changes.

In January, the city issued 691 red-light camera citations, according to information obtained from a city council member. By March, the number of citations had dropped to 263. Last month, the vendor that operates Arnold's red-light cameras -- American Traffic Solutions -- confirms that it issued just 198 citations. That's a drop of 72 percent from the number of citations issued in January.

Tom Blair, MoDOT's assistant engineer for the St. Louis regions, tells Daily RFT that he doesn't anticipate other cities seeing such steep declines once MoDOT finishes changing all its signal speeds across the state. For starters, all Arnold's red-light cameras happen to be on MoDOT roadways. That's not the case in most cities. In St. Louis, just over half (13) of the city's 25 intersection with red-light cameras are along MoDOT controlled roadways.

"In Arnold, the speed limit on the roads with these cameras is also higher than what you'd have in most places, including St. Louis," he says. "For example, the speed limit on Highway 141 in Arnold is 60 mph, and thus the need for a longer yellow."

MoDOT is changing the signal speeds based on national standards that take into consideration actual driving speeds (not the posted speed limit) and other factors.

"Unfortunately drivers are a lot more distracted these days with cell phones, GPS, satellite radio, etc.," says Blair. "And they're also driving faster, which can necessitate the need for a longer yellow and longer all-red to make sure the intersection is safe and clear."

Charles Territo, the spokesman for American Traffic Solutions (ATS), tells Daily RFT that his company is "pleased" with the reduced number of violations in Arnold, which became the first Missouri city to install red-light cameras in 2005. Yet, Territo doesn't give longer amber times the sole credit for the drop in citations. He suggests that the cameras themselves have played a role in curbing unsafe driving.

"Fewer violations means that driver behavior is changing and that the unsafe driving practices that increase the likelihood of collisions are decreasing," says Territo, who adds: "Studies have shown that if the amber light is too long, drivers will disregard it and consider it part of the green light cycle."

Doris Borgelt, an Arnold council member who was elected into office in April, says she was shocked to see the reduction in red-light citations when she requested the information from the police department. She says her colleagues on the council have turned a deaf ear to her findings and recently considered placing a fifth city intersection under red-light camera surveillance.

Borgelt passed her findings on to Matt Hay, a vocal opponent of the cameras who, as an Arnold councilman from 2008 to 2010, tried to rid the city of its contract with ATS. Since leaving the council, Hay has gone onto create the website that criticizes the use of the cameras.

Says Hay, "Since the number of citations in Arnold had doubled from the first full year that these cameras were installed through the end of last year, it raises the question on what is the effective means of making roads safer. Is it cameras or proper engineering of traffic signals? The results seem to indicate the latter, but then that doesn't generate any revenue through tickets."

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For more St. Louis news and gossip, follow @chadgarrison on Twitter and Daily RFT on Facebook.

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